Friday, March 13, 2009

Lead a Holy Life

Please also read:

Genesis 17:1: "I am the Almighty God: walk before me, and be perfect."

St. Matthew 5:48: "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect."

1 Peter 4:18 "And if the just man shall scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"

If a person does all that they can to lead a Holy life, with God as their primary love, will God allow them to labour indefinitely in ignorance of the true Faith? Certainly not. God will grant the truth to them that respond to His grace and seek to love Him above all things and do His will. Such a person will be receive the truth, but they first have to admit that they are in darkness about the true faith and that they cannot obtain the truth without God’s help.

That admission is the easy part, for we all know that God is Almighty and that he can do all things. The next part is where we have to work. None who die as non-Catholics can get to heaven and even then only Catholics who persevere in doing the works of a Catholic with faith, hope and charity will get to heaven.

Foremost among the works of a Catholic is to obey the law. There is a hierarchical structure with four levels of law that we are to obey. In the first place is the Divine Law, given to us through revelation, such as the Ten Commandments, and Jesus’ exhortation to love God above all things, and love our neighbour as ourselves. Second is the natural law. According to St. Thomas, the natural law is "nothing else than the rational creature's participation in the eternal law." Others have described it thus: "Observe the rational order established and sanctioned by God.", "Manifest in your life the image of God impressed on your rational nature." Next is the ecclesiastical, or Canon Law, and finally secular law. All persons having attained the Age of reason are bound to obey the Divine Law, and consequently all other forms of law.

While problems arising from apparent conflicts in the varying levels of law may produce confusion for some, in actuality they are solved quite simply by adherence to the law of higher institution. Unlike ecclesiastical and secular law, which are the works of men, and meant to elaborate on Divine and natural law, Our Lord God Himself established Divine and natural law. Only God can exempt a person, for whatever reason, from obedience to either Divine or natural law (e.g. the Israelites were given licence at times to have more than one wife). Likewise, if a secular law or ecclesiastical law (which is not infallible) is evil, one must refuse to obey it, as it would intrinsically be in conflict with the higher Divine law, and thus would not be law, properly so called, but a perversion of law.

At the very least, we must resolve ourselves to stop sinning. The manifold motivations should be ample reason; fear of punishment, although an imperfect motivation, is a very common place for people at the start of their journey to holiness. Many times we are told the same thing in sacred Scripture.

Psalms 110:10: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. A good understanding to all that do it: his praise continueth for ever and ever."

Proverbs 1:7: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fools despise wisdom and instruction."

Apocalypse 14:7: "Saying with a loud voice: Fear the Lord, and give him honour, because the hour of his judgment is come; and adore ye him, that made heaven and earth, the sea, and the fountains of waters."

Once we know we are truly in communion with the one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, we find our motivation will come less from fear and more from love as we begin to merit grace with God by our obedience, prayers and penance. Once we have begun down this narrow road to holiness, the next thing we want to do is to cultivate in ourselves the various virtues, by asking for and responding positively to God’s grace.

The three theological virtues are so called because they have God for their immediate and proper object; because they are Divinely infused; because they are known only through Divine Revelation. They have as their final scope, to dispose man to acts conducive to his salvation. They cannot be merited by any human act, although one must positively prepare himself by accepting the prevenient grace of God.  Before one can have Faith, Hope or Charity, he must allow himself to be moved by God to hate his sins, truly wish to amend his life and believe the revelations of God, given through the Church He established.

Faith is an infused virtue. By faith the intellect is perfected by a supernatural light, in virtue of which, under a supernatural movement of the will, it assents firmly to the supernatural truths of Revelation, not on the motive of intrinsic evidence, but on the sole ground of the infallible authority of God.

Hope is a Divinely infused virtue, by which we trust, with an unshaken confidence grounded on the Divine assistance, to attain life everlasting, since not only man's intellect must be perfected with regard to his supernatural end, but his will also must tend to that end. Hope must never be replaced with presumption upon God’s mercy.

Charity, which is the remedy for greed, is that habit or power which disposes us to love God above all creatures for Himself, and to love ourselves and our neighbours for the sake of God. It differs from faith, as it regards God not under the aspect of truth but of good. It differs from hope inasmuch as it regards God not as our good precisely, but as good in Himself. But this love of God as good in Himself does not exclude the love of God as He is our good. With regard to the love of our neighbor, it falls within the theological virtue of charity in so far as its motive is the supernatural love of God, and it is thus distinguished from mere natural affection. A charitable act, therefore is any act motivated by the love of God or neighbour.

There are four cardinal virtues and they are called cardinal, which comes from the Latin cardo or hinge, because they are hinges upon which the door of the moral life swings.

Prudence is the ability to judge between virtuous and vicious actions, not only in a general sense, but with regard to appropriate actions at a given time and place. Although prudence itself does not perform any actions, and is concerned solely with knowledge, all virtues are to be regulated by it. Distinguishing when acts are courageous, as opposed to reckless or cowardly, for instance, is an act of prudence, and for this reason it is classified as a cardinal virtue.

Justice, another of the four cardinal virtues, moderates between our own interests and the rights and needs of others. The just man renders to each and all what is due to them. Justice is closely related to the practice of charity, because it regulates the relationships with others. It is sometimes deemed the most important of the cardinal virtues.

Temperance, one of the four cardinal virtues, is the remedy for gluttony. It is the righteous habit, which makes a man govern his natural appetite for pleasures of the senses in accordance with the norm prescribed by reason. In one sense temperance may be regarded as a characteristic of all the moral virtues; the moderation it enjoins is central to each of them. Thus, it is the virtue which bridles concupiscence or which controls the yearning for pleasures and delights, which most powerfully attract the human heart. These fall mainly into three classes: some are associated with the preservation of the human individual; others with the perpetuation of the race, and others still with the well being and comfort of human life. Under this aspect temperance has for subordinate virtues, abstinence, chastity, and modesty.

Fortitude or courage is the ability to confront fear, pain, risk, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Physical courage is courage in the face of physical pain, hardship, or threat of death, while moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement. To possess any virtue, a person must be able to sustain it in the face of difficulty, thus fortitude is the fourth of the cardinal virtues.

In addition to charity and temperance, the following virtues can be grouped together as the seven heavenly virtues, which oppose the seven vices. The seven vices or seven deadly sins are listed below, followed by the virtues, which nullify them.

Lust: Sins against purity, against the sixth and ninth commandments, in thought, word or deed.
Gluttony: Use of food and drink beyond necessity.
Greed: Being unsatisfied with our temporal possessions, and desiring more than what is necessary.
Sloth: Idleness, or sluggishness in duty, prayer and virtue.
Wrath: Unjust anger towards others and any actions precipitated by it.
Envy: Begrudging those having greater temporal or spiritual well being than ourselves.
Pride: Attributing our successes or well being to our own industry rather than to God’s providence; elevating or glorifying ourselves.

Chastity is the remedy for lust. It is the virtue that excludes or moderates the indulgence of the carnal appetite. It is a form of the virtue of temperance.

is the remedy for sloth. It is a zealous and careful nature in one's actions and work and includes a decisive work ethic, budgeting one's time and monitoring one's own activities to guard against laziness.

Patience is the remedy for wrath. Forbearance and endurance through moderation, resolving conflicts peacefully, as opposed to resorting to violence and the ability to forgive and show mercy to sinners all belong to patience.

is the remedy for envy and includes charity, compassion and sympathy.

, the remedy for pride, guides one to modest behavior and selflessness, as well as giving credit where credit is due and not glorifying oneself.

How can we know if we obey as we ought or if we are progressing in virtue?

The Ten Commandments are an excellent guide for us, and daily making an examination of conscience based upon this comprehensive law is an underrated practice that should be undertaken by all Catholics who seek God’s salvation. Afterward, we Catholics (since none can receive forgiveness of sins until they become Catholic) must pray for perfect contrition and a firm purpose of amendment, that we might hate our sins because they offend God, and never fall into them again.

A great way of learning virtue and how to obey and love God is to read the lives of the saints, who heroically restrained themselves from any and all thoughts, words or deeds by which they would knowingly offend God. These heroes of holiness are shining examples of purity, and though they are so much holier than we are, that is all the more reason to emulate them. Our thoughts should be thus: "I am unworthy to be compared with saints. Nevertheless, it is quite safe to aim at perfection by degrees. What is to hinder me taking up unaccustomed practices? God is able to help me. It often happens that some poor man follows in the path of a mighty and wealthy nobleman. Although the nobleman reaches the inn sooner and enjoys a delicious meal and rests on a soft bed, yet the poor man reaches the same inn, though later and there he partakes of the leftovers from the nobleman's meal. If he had not followed in the nobleman's path and sought the same inn, he would not have enjoyed his nobleman's meal. In the same way I say now that, although I am unworthy to be compared with saints, I do wish to follow along their path, so that at least I might be able to partake of their merits." - Revelation to St. Birgitta.

Once you are resolved to live the life of virtue for the glory of God, the truth will be yours and all that is left convert to the true Catholic Faith, outside which there is no salvation.

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